Pizza Wars part 2

( For part 1 go to MettleChurch.com )

There are many great minds with dedicated ambition to trace the meaning of the words of Christ and what they imply, what their true meaning is in our lives. There is a whole industry of seminaries, conferences, seminars, church hierarchy, writers, and commentators surrounding the execution of the great commission of continual and expanding sharing of the gospel. We are blessed to live in a society where deep study, discussion and debate are almost universally possible. Having a thriving academic vein dedicated to studying the depths of possible comprehension of God is invaluable. Following in the unceasing footsteps of scholars, securing and conveying knowledge from an organized perspective is a good thing, but goes greatly to waste.

The battles rage on over the fine details of differing theologies, countless hours are spent studying and discussing the great saints and evangelists of the past and someone is always working on a newer, better interpretation of scripture. Theological education and study is primarily a residual rehashing of other people’s rehashing of a Christian doctrine laid out 300 years after Jesus resurrection. The study and comparing of “isms”. You see many students’ views and beliefs shift with each passing semester as if they have no thoughts of their own. Conspiracy theories aside, those who established that doctrine were just men like the rest of us, doing their best to frame something incomprehensible to mortal man in a way that could be reduced to as few words as possible in order to set a firm comprehensible standard, without limiting God. The theologians who came after try instead to use many words to describe and expand upon the few words in an attempt to define at least a portion of the depths of infinity. The war over the meanings of words preoccupies actual free-flow of ideas and concepts with a sort of brainwashing effect.

Studying the works and thoughts of religions’ history is important, it shows both good and bad examples of what becomes of different lines of thought and ways of doing things. Original thoughts however, carry a deeper understanding of the broader meaning and implications of an idea, when followed by study, than could ever be achieved when the study comes first. Original thoughts are not to be confused with new thoughts. Original thoughts are new to the individual, connections or questions made within our own minds, and happen all the time. New thoughts are a very rare thing and thinking you have one usually indicates your particular level or area of ignorance.

Whether the current standard for formal study of the faith and hierarchy of the church and it’s divisions is about believing the revealed truth has been understood and “here it is” or just a formula devised to claim a bigger piece of the religious pie is becoming irrelevant. The world is becoming smaller and the current doctrines and professed beliefs are making God seem smaller as science whittles away at the need for his influence. Ten minute introductions for great theologians who speak like politicians for two hours to crowds of colleagues mincing words like cutting several pizzas and putting pieces from different ones back together to better describe the pizza or create a new pizza, will not feed the crowds.

Our God is a divine infinite. As we learn more about ourselves and our universe, our Father only grows larger and more amazing. The chains we put on our faith and his power by holding to traditional beliefs of world and religious history or ignoring these issues like they don’t exist while great minds endlessly debate the specific meanings of mutually understood ideas, rather than take a step back to look at creation is nothing more than a distraction from God’s ongoing revealing of himself in the grandeur and complexity of our spirits and universe.

The new battle is forming. There is a push to reevaluate our understanding of the Bible and pull religious dogma back towards Christ’s teachings, but it has not yet moved the established war of words from the battlefield. Preaching generally steers clear of most of the controversial issues and thankfully, most refocused on God’s mercy through Christ. Nothing more than the Bible and a broader perspective is needed for a deeper understanding of the universe than was historically recognized or possible, but we have filled in details, found or tied in other evidence of material history and God’s influence. Ignoring or denying the facts, and sticking to bygone conjecture to fill historical gaps is utterly ridiculous. It is time for a new reformation which allows for the infinite loving God who knows us, and we can know but still cannot comprehend.

Pizza Wars part 1

I really like pizza, the majority of people in the western world like pizza. There are some who don’t and some can take it or leave it, but if you’re trying to feed a large group of people with varying tastes and lifestyles, pizza has pretty broad appeal. But it’s not as simple as it might seem.

Pizza, five letters forming an Italian word defined as flat dough, typically covered in savory sauce and cheese, which may include other toppings of meats and vegetables, then baked. When we say pizza we initially agree on what the word means and what it is. Then we start getting more specific and things get complicated. Round or square? Thick crust or thin? Tomato sauce or Alfredo? Cheese, veggie, pepperoni, sausage, supreme? Or some real controversy; pineapple? Many words have different meanings, but pizza has just one, yet it still means many different things to different people. Give someone from Chicago a piece of authentic Italian pizza and they will look at you like you’ve lost your mind.

Pizza has three primary ingredients which until fairly recently, went basically unchanged and unchallenged. Bread, tomato sauce, cheese. People started adding other stuff to this once basic food to make it into a complete meal. Different trends in topping combinations and crust types come and go and develop in different areas. Now we have cauliflower crust, cheese crust and different kinds of sauces, dessert pizza, pizza rolls, the list goes on. Virtually anything, baked in thin flat layers can be called pizza.

The meaning and image a word (almost any word) conveys, is greatly dependent on the listener. Even in the same generation and culture they can have vastly different implications. Each person has their favorite kind of pizza, that’s the image they embrace when they hear “pizza”, whether it’s meat lovers stuffed crust with extra cheese or gluten free vegan. But you won’t often hear people disagree about what original, traditional pizza was and is, we accept that the differences we’ve come up with are our own preferences based on personal tastes and though we may jokingly argue about it, leave others to their own and are probably quite willing to eat their favorite.

The point here is, the meaning of a word, a simple noun, can be argued even when the meaning of a word is agreed upon. Christians have argued the meaning of Jesus’ words for nearly 2000 years. We have dissected and interpreted every morsel we have evidence of in an attempt to grasp it’s meaning and implication. From begrudging compliance to bloody wars we have disagreed about nearly everything he uttered at some point. We live and die by our own self righteous sense of understanding a man who’s closest friends and family seldom understood.

To be continued…

The Way

Christianity isn’t what it used to be, and that’s not all bad. Many things not of God, accepted, endorsed and enforced by the church have come and gone. Many things which contradict Jesus teachings have entered the church and never left. The first followers of Jesus Christ were never called Christians at all, and by the time it was a common term, much of his teachings were already being abandoned, distorted and mischaracterized.

The early church had no name. Sometimes referred to as The Way among other things, it was a new way of living and understanding the world. Questions about Jesus having been a real person who was really crucified hadn’t begun. His ministry and death was common knowledge and if he didn’t rise from death, the people of his time would have cried foul and that would have been the end of his following, as happened with many who had come before or since claiming or thought to be the Christ. The term Christian was eventually coined to give distinction to Jesus Christ’s followers who were by all accounts, different. Family heritage, social class and other divisions accepted by virtually everyone meant nothing among this group of outspoken people. Christ’s followers adopted the name given them, and have kept it throughout history, even when their ways strayed far from The Way.

Though a few notable academics are attempting something of a new reformation of some major church doctrine, they don’t go nearly far enough. People have used Paul’s letters to form religion around what was intended to be a new way for society to function and watered down or misinterpreted Christ’s message to suit their agendas for nearly 2000 years. I understand and sympathize with the resistance to shake the boat too hard, but it must be done. While I don’t know if the slow turn is because of genuine slow changes in understanding or careful protection of position, the common ways of following The Way have wandered far from the narrow path. Though the doctrine and structures of the church carried The Word (emphasizing what they wanted and making up a lot of extras) through the ages among a gradually enlightening society, modern understanding of earth’s history and practical science demand a recanting of much of what the church has held to for millennia.

Prayer

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What are we doing when we pray? Prayer is worship. We’re acknowledging God’s power. It’s knowing that we are weak and flawed and praising or petitioning something greater than ourselves. Without faith, prayer is just a wish list, a superstitious tossing of a coin into a well. A kind of “well, it can’t hurt” approach.
Prayers are made in times of grief, moments of fear, times of reflection and moments of joy. They can become simply a habit, or made for some pretty frivolous and selfish, even hateful reasons. People have prayed to the sun, the moon, stars, planets, animals, trees, water, wind, fire, the list goes on. Prayers are often made to the god we have created for ourselves. A request to a greater version of ourselves with the power to do what we know should be done.
Any time we turn our hearts and minds toward God for solace, guidance or sharing our appreciation is prayer. So is turning our hearts and minds to Him with complaints, frustration and anger. You can rest assured, no one ever said a prayer that wasn’t heard by God, even if the prayer wasn’t made to Him. God also knows why we are praying for whatever we’re praying for, and who we’re praying to. And He knows to who and why we are praying, better than we do.
Christ told us “when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” God is there in those dark and angry, lonely times, waiting for us to seek His guidance and comfort. He’s there in those thoughtful contemplative times, waiting to reveal answers. He’s there in the grateful rejoicing times, graciously accepting our praise. Jesus also said “And when you pray don’t heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them”. He doesn’t need you to try to impress Him or other people with repetitious wailings or dramatic expressions. He wants to be in a completely real, honest, totally unguarded relationship with you. He wants to listen to you, alone in your room, door closed.
The prayer given to us by Jesus Christ himself, known as The Lord’s Prayer, tells us not only who God is, what he does for us, and why we can trust Him, It gives us a framework of the intent and understanding that should serve as the foundation and backdrop of all our prayers. As we have come to know it, it comes in three main parts. The first two are directly from Christ and teach us who we are praying to, and what we should rightfully expect from God. The third part was added by Christians is a worshiping praise, showing that we accept and understand what we were taught.
Who are we praying to; (who are we worshipping)

Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name, thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Taken piece by piece this tells us who God is and why we should worship Him.
Our father; Some dads took care of us and taught us and loved us, some dads were abusive, physically, mentally or by neglect, some people never even know who their father is. The one thing that is the same, and this is true universally, is the primary, intentional involvement in our creation. Whether we were the result of an accident or a planned pregnancy, our fathers took direct and deliberate action to bring us into the world. There is no intermediary between us and our fathers, whether that relationship is a good one or a bad one, either way it’s very personal. Through faith that Jesus is the Son of God the Father, we are all a part of the body of Christ. Christians. As Christians we say “our father” which reflects the first of the Ten Commandments (Thou shalt have no other gods before Me.) We are speaking directly to God, the Father of Jesus Christ, the one whose will began and sustains everything in creation. Without His intent, nothing would be or have ever been. Without Him providing for us, we would cease to be. Sometimes his lessons are painful, what He provides, less than we think we deserve, some we never understand, but he will always be there, teaching and providing.

Who art in heaven; (Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image.) God the Father exists beyond our comprehension, he’s not limited to earthly relics or individual perception. God has seen us again and again try to contain him and restrict him, or create our own gods that we are more comfortable with. Gods that are limited to certain places or certain times. God is not in a cross, he’s not in a painting, or a statue, or a church building. He is with each of us wherever we are. He is also in places beyond our wildest imagination.
Hallowed be thy name; (Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain.) I used to be bad about this, I did it daily. I didn’t really think of it as breaking a commandment, it was just a common expression, but really it is disrespecting God. To use his name but not actually give him any thought. We are not to profane the name of The Lord by calling on Him with bad intent and we are to pay due honor any time we mention Him.

Thy kingdom come; God created everything and reigns supreme over all of it. In Christ’s coming he declared the Kingdom. In Christ’s return, He’ll complete it. His Kingdom is the place where everyone who has put their faith in The Son come together under the Father, not simply a place on a map. We live in the Kingdom if we have faith in Christ, no matter where we are.

Thy will be done; We’re saying that we want what He wants, more than what we want ourselves and that we understand that all God wants to happen will happen. That’s where we go all in with prayer. Understanding that God knows best and that He is engaged it seeing it through.
On earth as it is in heaven; God is intentional in our lives and our world. He didn’t just set us up with a fancy spinning rock and sit back and watch. He isn’t just a “big-picture” Deity. He is working on us and through us every day.
We’re worshipping the one who started it all, He allowed all of us to be here. The One who sacrificed His own Son to save us from ourselves. We are worshipping the ultimate power and authority.
The Second part of the Lord’s Prayer teaches us what we should expect if we have faith. What we should expect of him and why will it be granted.
Give us this day our daily bread; Now, I like bread. But what we are referring to here is more than that. We are stating that God is providing whatever we need to sustain ourselves. Worries have no place in the Kingdom of God. People get desperate when times are hard and do things out of desperation because we think that we have no other choice. Those are the times when God is asking us to trust in Him, trust that he will provide what we need when we know, fear and revere Him. All that is best for us at that time is what we will have, if we have faith. It may not be what we planned, but it will be what we need.
And forgive us our trespasses; This is our confession, knowing and admitting that we have done wrong, at whatever level, mind, body or spirit. Its also our statement of faith that through God’s grace, granted to us on behalf of His Son Jesus Christ, he will forgive us.
As we forgive those who trespass against us; Its easy to feel convicted when we read or hear about how we shouldn’t judge, we need to forgive others and love our enemies. It’s hard to forgive those that have wronged us or the people we care about. Overall, people don’t think about mistakes or even want to admit to ourselves the things we have done wrong very often. We make excuses to justify our behavior, a lot of times we end up blaming the very same people we should be asking to forgive us. Judgement comes for all of us, we are to love others as we love ourselves. We would want to be forgiven, our grace to others is the measure which we should wish to have applied to ourselves. God’s grace is endless, it can cover anything we have done if we simply trust in Christ. When we allow ourselves to believe, we feel that grace within ourselves. The peace that it grants us gets extended to others. The more we accept that our sins are forgiven, the more aware of them we become, and the less we can blame others for theirs. Once you have faith in God’s goodwill, you become another outlet for it.
And lead us not into temptation; A person of faith is still a person. Still susceptible to sin, but doesn’t want to be. We ask that God limit the influence of bad examples, and reduce the draw to and desire of sinning.
But deliver us from evil; We are pursued by Satan who tempts us to sin and faithlessness. Without God’s forgiveness and help he will catch us. He will take us down with him if he can.
The last section is pure praise, and it shows that we have learned, not earned our place in the Kingdom. God was not elected, the Kingdom is, always was and always will be His to control and define.

For thine is the kingdom; God has authority over all things, on all levels. As Christians, we are the subjects.
And the power; God controls every detail, nothing can restrict or limit the fulfillment of His will.
And the glory; Only God is worthy of praise and adoration.
Forever and ever; He is unchanging and unchangeable.
Amen; The word amen, is simply an affirmation of truth, our prayer is offered to God in good faith and without deception.

Christ teaches us, saying “our” Father, “our” daily bread, forgive “our” trespasses, as “we” forgive trespassers against “us”, lead “us”, deliver “us.” As Christians we are all one body. Joined together by the Holy Spirit as the body of Christ. There is no room for selfish endeavors or ill will in prayer.

The apostles asked Jesus; how do we pray. Christ gave a direct answer, He gave us the Lord’s Prayer. He doesn’t tell us these are the only words we can use, He said to ask anything of the Father in His name and it will be done. Unfortunately, people are sinful, we aren’t selfless, we don’t love others as we love ourselves, we aren’t humble or grateful. But if we remember who we’re telling the Father of all creation, is our personal reference, and are honest with ourselves, nothing selfish or ill willed can come out. When asked with complete faith and a heart of accepting the words and meaning of the Lord’s Prayer, every prayer is granted. When we put our faith in the salvation Christ granted us, praising God isn’t an obligation, it’s an honor.

Should the Bible be taught in public school?

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I read recently about a few public schools which had begun religious studies programs as part of their curriculum. Among the classes offered were various titles of classes involving the study of the Bible. Christians who are for the Bible in state run schools should seriously consider if they want religious studies or the Bible specifically, to be part of our public education system.

The only way biblical classes will be available is if studies of other religions and texts are offered as well. It also means, those teaching the classes won’t be required or expected to include their personal beliefs or let them influence their teachings. This wouldn’t be a problem were it possible. Aside from being one of the most complicated and personal subjects in the realm of possible subjects, religion is also the hardest to keep our personal views from impacting our approach to describing them. The best they could hope to do is exactly what was described as the methodology used in including religion and the Bible in public schools. Teaching it as history, and studying it’s social impact.

Christians cheering this sort of inclusion as some sort of victory haven’t looked at what this means in the big picture. The Bible would be studied as a historical book, it’s influence on society, it’s placement in history, it’s poetic value, even it’s genius or folly of authorship and inter connectivity. It would not be taught as The Living Word of God. Entire generations of children would be taught that God, The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit and the Bible are simply another part of man’s foolish history. No different than the gods of Ancient Greece. This is exactly what those who oppose religion and refuse Christ want to happen. If they didn’t see this as the end game, they would never have accepted it in the first place.

Jesus Christ wasn’t just some guy who lived and was killed a couple thousand years ago, who had this book written about him which ended up causing wars and a lot of innocent people to be killed. But that’s what the average middle school kid is qoing to get from a public school sponsored religious studies class. Christ would be taught to be no different than Mohamed or Buddha or Brahma, the Bible of no more value than The Hobbit, Animal Farm or the great Gatsby.

Just like I don’t want the Church in charge of my government, I don’t want the government teaching religion. The proper separation of church and state was made clear by Christ, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” Though this hasn’t been practiced throughout history, and still isn’t in much of the world, it is how the United States was started and should continue.

Peter had a sword.

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I was recently asked about Jesus Christ’s position as the Prince of Peace. (Isaiah 9:6) The increase in random violent attacks spawned by religious zealots, angry ignorant fools and mentally disturbed chemical depositories should make everyone consider the position of the church and it’s members in this continual war on peace. While I’m pretty sure he was just wanting to see if I agreed with him, (which I apparently do at least in the big picture) it’s a relevant topic.

“Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.” -Jesus Christ

Jesus was a man of confrontation, a fearless instigator. He provoked, he accused, he made firm statements and exhibited behaviors which went completely against the grain of polite society and religious leadership. Jesus polarized those he met, inspiring love and awe in those who were open to him and anger and fear in those who were not. He wasn’t crucified for being nice to everyone, giving everyone whatever they wanted or being politically correct. His peace was not earthly and his words and actions made that message very clear. That in no way says he was physically violent, the sword he presented came from his mouth, and he presented it boldly. The strength and power of The Word of God is the weapon he brought to battle the misunderstanding and corruption of our minds and souls. It is the sword(Ephesians 6:17) he gave us to battle the ruler of this world(John 14:30) and the evil(Ephesians 6:11) he wields. Christ never committed a single act of violence against a person, though by modern definition, his turning over tables of merchants and money changers would be considered a violent act. We don’t crucify people in America today, but he would be arrested and labeled an unstable danger to society.

”You have heard it said, ‘an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.” -Jesus Christ 

This is a difficult directive to come to terms with. It almost seems completely contrary to the other statement. Most modern explanations I found are written by men who have little to no personal experience with violence, while writers of older ones often faced tremendous violence. I found more modern ones saying, ‘he just meant insults, as that’s what a slap on the cheek meant in ancient times’. Some seem to find a way to excuse all but the most unprovoked violence, leaving fairly open exceptions for war, self defense and defense of others, which essentially encompasses everything when viewed from the violent mind. They usually go on to clearly interpret Christ’s reference to an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. But leave the turn the other cheek part no more definitive, or actually, less definitive. Those who denounce any and all violence have often seen a lot of it in one form or another, somehow the ones who haven’t are usually so convoluted in their extrapolations they leave unintelligible responses. It so directly contradicts our nature, it is a hard thing to swallow so we try to leave ourselves an out, just in case.

Jesus was a Jew, though his salvation and message applies to all, he was speaking to Jews. Throughout the sermon this line is taken from, Jesus is referencing Old Testament scriptures. Here he specifically references Leviticus with “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth”. It sounds pretty hard core, but it really is a restraint. When wronged or hurt, our natural response is to make them sorry, to cause greater harm than was caused to us so they’ll regret their actions, and to serve ourselves to vindication. A sort of paying back with interest. Putting restrictions on repercussions brings pause, a moment to consider the ramifications of revenge that always lead to even greater discord. At worst an eye for an eye evens the score. What Jesus did was clarify the intent as he did with all of the Old Testament, he told us to quit keeping score. Nothing can undue an act of violence or unspeak an insult. Returning it in kind only increases the total evil which is done. Israel was commanded no more than an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth; to not seek gain from loss, though they continued to calculate proper revenge. Jesus said to turn the other cheek, to prevent us ever falling down the hole of revenge, so the lesser loss is gain.

”Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God,…” -Paul of Tarsus

Paul’s letter to the Romans gives the best explanation of Christ’s instruction on violence. God knows we live in a violent world. We cannot live at peace with all, but we must try. Beyond the scope of insults and momentary personal suffering, which are clearly not opportunities for violence or retaliation, violence to prevent greater evil must be measured to the entire message of The Word and the will of God. We aren’t capable of taking that measurement, and are slow to follow His will. God is the the only righteous deliverer of vengeance, so it can be measured completely, dispensed properly and abandoned by grace when granted. Everyone from armies to individuals are subject to God’s influence and I can’t say he doesn’t use men as weapons for his purpose, I believe he does. I also believe that were we able, as people, to reject evil driven violence completely, there would be no need for righteous violence, and that a fairly small percentage of conflicts have enough of a “good guy” side to be worthy of His interference.

Peter had a sword, in those days anyone who could afford one had a sword. Not just for self defense, it was like the multi-tool of its day. Peter wasn’t a soldier or warrior, he was a fisherman. It was a harsh world though and defense was a real necessity too. When he cut the ear of the soldier to defend the Lord, Jesus stopped him and told him not to fight, because it was his time. He didn’t say never defend yourself or others. He then said ‘he who lives by the sword, shall die by the sword’ but the sword is the living Word of God. He is the word(John 1:1-18) and was about to die because of it. If we believe in him and live by the Word, we die to ourselves and are born again in Christ who overcame death. Living by the sword in the literal, violent sense also brings death, and that is the broad path that leads to destruction.

Jesus is the Christ and the Prince of Peace, he gives peace to those who believe in him and tells us how and why to be at peace with others. He doesn’t say lay down and take a beating, or sit back and watch one, but exercising the means to stop it is the most allowance I can see, and I’m not even sure about that. In the earliest part of the church, it flourished and expanded at a miraculous rate while suffering unspeakable violence and those Christians were widely known for not fighting back. I believe God motivated the powers that overcame the Nazis, but struggle with the murder of millions of native Americans in westward expansion,  millions more in numerous countries with the implementation of communism, the death of billions over time that in my limited perception are completely evil destruction and worthy of his intervention. My faith is in his eternal goodness, peace and perfect wisdom free of the confines of time and limitations. His peace is available to us now and will reign in eternity.

 

Those Greedy Churches

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A lot of the biggest public arguments against religious institutions come back to money. The public sees mega churches and celebrity preachers living the lifestyles of the wealthy and reasonably questions their integrity. “How can they claim to love their fellow man while they’re taking money from poor old ladies?” “Who are they really helping anyway, besides themselves?” “Churches should have to pay taxes like the rest of us!”

I have a huge problem with the way many religious institutions and/or leaders deal with finances. There’s no question misuse, abuse and outright corruption exists within the church. I’ve been told by a few people that they like my posts, but think I’m “very diplomatic” or “easy on the church.” Diplomacy isn’t something I have been commonly known for, so I put a lot of thought into why my thoughts and views on the church and faith would be seen in that light, if only by some. “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils.” This verse from the New Testament seemed as good as any to put a focus on my introspection.

“Money is the root of all evil.” It’s not. It never was. It’s a common misquote which completely removes the sinner from the sin. Money is simply a representation of potential purchase power. A short cut for trade so we don’t have to directly exchange  our particular skills or wares to those who produce the plethora of things we need, but can’t or don’t do for ourselves. Bills and coins themselves are good for next to nothing beyond what we agree upon. Otherwise, coins make good toys for kids to retrieve from the bottom of a pool, or a crappy screwdriver. Bills, I don’t know, kindling or overproduced art? Money isn’t the problem.

I live in the country outside Charleston, South Carolina. It’s nickname is “The Holy City” largely because of the large number of churches in the area that dominate the skyline. Charleston has been a key location in American history and has recently shown it’s holiness in being one of the few places not to be thrown into turmoil by a true hate filled attack, while tensions were boiling over across the country based on what were in my opinion, lesser events. Two men in Florida had physical fight that resulted in one shooting the other, another man in Missouri was shot while running at a police officer in a menacing posture. While in the thick of the upheaval, in Charleston, a prejudiced young man walked into a church and after praying with the small group meeting there, shot and killed everyone he could. Within the same news cycle, a white police officer in North Charleston was on video shooting an unarmed black man as he was running away. Rather than tearing itself apart, Charleston came together. It has become one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world, and has T.V. shows based around it’s gentile social elite.

The town between me and Charleston is Mt. Pleasant. Just across the river from Charleston, it’s nicknames are much less flattering. Mt. Plastic and Mt. Please-Me are used very commonly to refer to the once small fishing village turned yuppie Mecca. Porsche’s, Mercedes, Lexus and BMWs outnumber Chevys, Fords and Dodges. Nannies and maid services, yoga pants and breast implants mark the leisure set of non-working, college educated moms. Kids wear bow ties and have monogrammed backpacks. People there introducing themselves include their subdivision or neighborhoods as a way of establishing their status. If you don’t say, they will ask, it really seems important to them. Always an anomaly, when asked I say I live in the country, you can see their wheels start spinning as they try to decide if its a trailer on a postage stamp or a country estate.

Charleston is not made up of only good, fair minded people. It’s well known for political corruption and is a grand display of the haves and have-nots. Mt. Pleasant has a reasonable percentage of regular, working class people. Some of the wealthiest people are also the nicest most down to earth folks you could ever hope to meet. Charleston, a party town with tons of bars, lots of cocaine, an old money guard and plenty of slums, presents itself as and produces the fruit of its nickname. Mt. Pleasant with a solid real estate and service based economy full of quaint shops and restaurants, presents itself as and produces the fruit of it’s nicknames. In either case, views and opinions are biased based on each person’s perspective. Again, the total is greater than the sum of the parts.

Churches and have been in and out of favor by different people in different places throughout history. Seen by some as holy and righteous, by others self-serving and fake. Sometimes for a lack of perception and genuine understanding, other times for good reason and sound judgement. Just like these municipalities, the church is made up of many individuals, some fitting the general outside perceptions, others not at all. My personal beliefs about what the church is and should be, has been countered by my actual experience. I see the church as a family, the bride of Christ, many different personalities joined together by faith and forgiveness, nurturing, accepting and loving. My experience with churches has been that of indulgence, exclusion, judgement and condescension more often than not. For years I was in the “churches are just a bunch of greedy hypocrites” camp because of it. But all the while, I knew good people who went to church, the best, happiest, kindest people I knew went to church.

The same as any person who chooses to can move to Charleston or Mt. Pleasant, any person who chooses to can show up at church. Jesus was clear in stating that not all who claim to be members of the body actually are. There are real and fake Christians. “Not everyone who says to me,’Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven. On that day many will say to me,’Lord, Lord, did we not prophecy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’” Christ was clear that there would be false Christians, not just among congregations but false teachers and prophets. That means seminary professors, preachers, worship leaders, Christian writers, individuals and potentially whole congregations that the entire church gets judged by, aren’t Christians at all.

When it comes to churches and money, one thing is certain, there are more poor struggling congregations and preachers than there are wealthy ones. The ones that are best known and talked about in the secular world are a tiny fraction of what is the church, which most certainly does not mean wealthy churches aren’t Christian. It doesn’t mean well known preachers are false teachers. It doesn’t mean the wealthiest, or most disgraced church leaders aren’t Christians. It does make it likely that some of them are. On the other hand, not all down home, traditional bake sale to replace the hymnals churches and their members are or aren’t Christians either. People tend to form opinions on either the best examples and the worst, generally choosing and using them to reinforce their own preset views. For example; The guy on TV, busted for a sex ring proves the church is all hypocritical, the guy who feeds the homeless once a week handing out bible verses, even though he has next to nothing is clearly nuts. Or, The Lord is using this good Christian’s sin to show us we’re all flawed, or “God has chosen to bless him exceedingly” about the guy who’s employees live in poverty. People can talk themselves into anything. There are rich and poor people in everything, lazy useless degenerates that are rich and poor, hard working, good hearted people that are rich and poor, ruthless schemers who are rich and poor, and Christians who are rich and poor.

“Churches should pay taxes like everyone else!” Churches certainly enjoy the most tax exemptions, but not much more than many other not-for-profit or non-profit organizations, and no more than other religious organizations. The big difference is no property tax, and less oversight. I can’t say I agree with all the tax exemptions different organizations get, but I don’t agree with many of the taxes everyone else has to pay either. The separation of church and state was and is the primary reason for their exclusion and for those who believe churches should pay should consider the implications. Church organizations are not allowed to send lobbyists to influence government regulations, if they were taxed the same, they could and would.

Jesus sent the disciples out with nothing but the word. He told the rich young man to give away all he had. He didn’t say live in poverty or take no payment for doing good service.  To me this shows you must love the lord, not worldly riches, and that loving the lord isn’t a way to financial success. People point fingers about churches wanting ten percent of their income, but the Bible actually calls for ten percent of ALL that you have. That’s not greed, it’s biblical statute watered down. We’re promised peace of mind and eternal life, not earthly trappings or an easy life.

When commenting on the church, I base it on the church as it is at it’s heart, that which it was intended to be, and is for so many. There are plenty of critics who focus only on the bad examples. I’m a Christian, Jesus lit a light in me that isn’t disturbed by the winds of change, not filtered by political correctness and not overpowered or dimmed by the world around me.